A Life of Letters

About A Life of Letters

Be we immortal? Can a life be preserved forever?

Not one to dwell on such weighty matters, I nonetheless believe that my best chance at immortality is to leave something for others to enjoy and perhaps learn from. Maybe somebody, somewhere, sometime, will appreciate my life as interpreted by my correspondence with the people in it. I can’t build you a bridge, and I can’t paint you a masterpiece, but at least I can share with you something about my life and times as told by others.

What is more intimate than a letter? Every one of these scraps of paper that I scanned and present to you touched the hands, the fingers, and in some cases, the lips of real people at a moment in their lives. Each committed a slice of time in their lives to share their thoughts, their feelings, their memories, and their love and friendship with me.

And that is the overriding sensation I get when I read and touch these letters. Love and creativity spill from them. The people who loved me and wrote to me took the care to break their thoughts into paragraphs, to scratch out misspelled words and false beginnings of thought, to doodle pictures and scribble marginalia, or to shape their letters and words with their own personal, irreducible styles. Even their choices of paper and the methods they used to crease and fold the letters to fit in their envelopes tell something about their personalities or their frame of mind at the moment they were thinking of me. Some affixed magazine clippings and toys or inserted dried flowers.

Most of them licked the envelope to seal the letter. How many emails have you received bearing a French kiss?

I wrote letters, too — most I’m pretty certain I never will see again. I too poured my heart into them and shared my thoughts and doings and creativity with my friends and family. My mom saved the letters that her children wrote her, and when she died, I retrieved those that I had written her. Together with those she wrote me, my letters provide a complete documentary of my life in the late 1970s and 1980s.

At least as my mother would have understood it to be.

I thought a lot about matters of privacy before I decided to launch this site. I was concerned that my letter writers or their families would be unhappy or uncomfortable that I have shared their personal thoughts with others, whether or not they still feel the same or believe the same things. My justification is that in many ways, a letter is not different from a photograph. It is a snapshot in time that shows as much about a person as any photographic image. Yet it tells so much more. I won’t go into matters of property – do these letters belong to me or to those who wrote them? In any case, to help protect the privacy or anonymity of the people whose letters appear on this website, I have taken pains to obliterate their last names. Likely you will not know them anyway.

The years have whipped by since these letters were written. The writers’ lives have changed, changed again, and in many cases they scant resemble the people they were when they wrote them. Someday they will die, and perhaps here their families will find them alive again, preserved, at least for a moment, and know them as they were.

As I knew them.


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